Given the cruelly capricious nature of the condition that claimed him, the end he bravely fought off for so long might have come at any time.
Before a so-so, slightly humdrum league game against Livingston last weekend, for example. But no, the sad news of Fernando Ricksen’s death arrived on the eve of a huge European clash, the type which he starred in on so many occasions as a player in an era when Rangers were entitled to expect regular encounters with top ranking sides from the continent and perhaps even see them off.
There was expectation and excitement in the air last night as well, but it was mingled with sadness. It had to be. A former Rangers player – and 12-times capped Dutch international – had died the previous day at the age of 43 from Motor Neurone disease.
Ricksen himself had known such high-octane occasions against the likes of Monaco, Inter Milan and yes, Feyenoord, who arrived in town in his second season at Ibrox in what was then known as the Uefa Cup. The side from his home country were back at Ibrox last night for another raucous night of European football. Fernando always did enjoy a bit of drama.
The setting as well as occasion did him proud, as did a blazing autumn sunset that saw the red-bricked Bill Struth main stand cast in an ethereal light. What was going on here? Something very special, that’s what.
Steven Gerrard hadn’t been too shy to say it. This match was being dedicated to Ricksen and this was confirmed in the opening minute, with Rangers going straight into attack from kick off. There was rarely any let up in the intensity thereafter.
The fans applauded for 60 seconds two minutes into the match – Ricksen’s shirt number. The current owner of that shirt then had the chance to really set Ibrox alight when Rangers were awarded a penalty after ten minutes. James Tavernier’s effort struck the outside of the post and went wide.
The hard part of playing right-back, as Ricksen, pictured, knew only too well, is that you are guaranteed a half of playing under the nose of the manager. Tavernier spent the rest of the opening 45 minutes feeling Gerrard’s icy glare.
But the man who did break the deadlock after 23 minutes, Sheyi Ojo, was wearing No 11. One plus one of course equals …two. It was written in the stars that shone down on a clear, crisp night….
The players from both sides wore black armbands. There was an “RIP Fernando” banner in the away corner although a 100 or so of these same fans slightly blotted their copybook when brawling with stewards and police at half-time.
The Union Bears unfurled a banner: “A warrior to the end. Rest easy Fernando.” The Tannoy announcer delivered the message there would be a minute’s silence and assured Ricksen that his place in Ibrox lore is assured over and above his inclusion in the club’s Hall of Fame. “Your fighting spirit knew no bounds, we will always remember you,” he said.
Born in Hoensbroek, Limburg, died in Airdrie, Lanarkshire. These stark, stripped-down details that were included in his obituaries tell the story of someone who, on top of enjoying his greatest days as a footballer in Scotland, found a home as well as care and shelter in the country.
But it felt right so many of his own countrymen were at Ibrox last night and that Jaap Stam, his old international team-mate, was able to lay flowers at the site of one tribute.
Yes, one tribute. The area around the John Greig statue at the Copland Road end is now festooned with scarves, flags and tributes. And there are as many, if not more, such items laid out below the Rangers gates at the other end of the ground.